Philippa York would have swapped cycling success for personal happiness

Philippa York

Philippa York (Image credit: Philippa York)

Philippa York has admitted she would have swapped her success as professional cyclist Robert Millar to have undergone gender transition and lived as a woman from a younger age.

York publicly revealed her transition during the summer, penning an emotional statement on Cyclingnews and confirming her new persona for the first time. She went on to commentate on the Tour de France for ITV 4 in Britain and recorded a podcast with Cyclingnews.

"I would have transitioned in my teenage years. And I wouldn't have been a cyclist and had the fame or infamy for what I’m known for,” York told BBC Scotland in an often emotional interview during her first visit to her home city of Glasgow after a 20-year absence.

"If I had the information that is available now to me back then, when I was on the cusp of trying to make a decision, I would have chosen to transition and not become a cyclist or whatever I became.”

“When I first went for treatment, it’s called gender dysphoria. That means you’re unhappy with your gender. The thing that counts the most is not how famous are you going to be, it's how happy, and that counts more for me than any kind of success.

"From the outside it seems the perfect life, you’re seen as strong, fast and capable but on the inside, I’m thinking: this is bad, this is not who I want to be.”

The outside didn't match the inside

Millar won the King of the Mountains jersey in the 1984 Tour de France, finishing fourth overall and was twice runner-up in the Tour of Spain. Millar was an icon for many cyclists and fans at the time but York admits she separated the racing from her real self.

Despite Millar’s success as a professional rider, York would have preferred to have lived a different life, having learned in her 20s that she could transition.

"But I realised it wasn't a practical thing, so I decided to wait until my career was over and, if I still felt the same, I'd do something about it,” she said.

"There would be days during those years when I would be struggling with it. You could be up there representing this powerful image and all the good things about sport but personally inside I'm a mess. The outside didn't really match the inside.

“I would compartmentalise it. When I did cycling I would do it 100% and that would cover the mental anguish I would have in my personal life.

"In professional sport there is no real place for emotions. That whole emotional system, I just turned it off and I operated like a robot. I would turn off my personal life while I did races and when I stopped the races I would have a couple of hours where I could turn back into what I call my normal person.”

During her return to Glasgow York returned to her school, toured the new Glasgow velodrome with Chris Hoy and spoke to Billy Bilsland, her first the coach, mentor and father figure.

Despite shedding tears, York believed her homecoming was a positive experience after a long journey in pursuit of her personal happiness.

"I'm happy - not perfectly happy, because I don't think perfection exists, but I'm fairly stable where I am and happy," York concluded.

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